The Reel World

Television is an entertainment medium. With the exception of ostensible news programs (let’s not overestimate the veracity of them: there is an array of reasons why the networks can be less than forthright in providing the “news” whether it is in a straight-up “news” show or so-called news “magazine”), what is provided by a network is entertainment, not slices of actual life regardless of the way it is presented. And it should be clear to everyone—though it isn’t—that whatever information/opinion you witness on the screen has been carefully packaged prior to distribution: the News Managers are very careful in what is put out there. Although someone might think that this sounds paranoid, that is far from the case. Rather, this manipulation that I am noting is nothing more than good business sense. Those who are in charge simply want to make sure that (1) the advertisers are happy and (2) the audience will keep coming back for more. And then (1) and (2) feed off of one another. And Broadcast (and cable) is all about the Business.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, there is a fascination among many people with so-called “reality” shows. Consider the term: “reality shows.” The notion of production and entertainment are baked right in. Is this reality? Not in any but a show-biz sense. They are nothing more than performances that can be cost-effectively created by production companies. That is, a fundamental characteristic of a “reality show” is that it employs nonprofessional performers. These aren’t actresses and actors, per se. They are real people, or so they are portrayed. They are evidently not people who have selected acting as a profession—or at least they are not actors who have achieved sufficient awareness among a wide-enough public such that they can’t charge the kinds of fees that known performers are able to charge. What their actual motives are, however, isn’t particularly clear: Some of these reality show actors may be wise enough to know that by acting as a “real” person on a “reality” show they may reach their goal of being a “legit” performer.

What is in any of this for the viewer is not particularly clear. While there might be something to be gained in the way of entertainment by watching people debase themselves in order to gain some ill-gotten loot (think of all of those things from Survivor to Fear Factor), this was perhaps best described by the term “jackass,” as cleverly used by the producers of the game show of that name. And I don’t think they were merely describing the participants.

One of the more dubious undertakings in this reality show genre is now in its 11th season: MTV’s “The Real World.” Let’s completely forget that the term “real” relates to authenticity. Let’s completely ignore the fact that this is reality as constructed by a production company that is as careful in determining who gets airtime as the producers on the no-less manipulative “Pop Stars.” Let’s completely buy in to the notion that this is “real” life.

A somewhat amusing revelation of the level of artificiality of “The Real World” appears in the Chicago Tribune Magazine (1/12/02). It is a piece in the Design section by Lisa Skolnik, who describes the “set/apartment” of this year’s model. Skolnik notes, “The bathroom alone was the size of most studio apartments, and admirably equipped with sleek, futuristic pedestal sinks, enormous shower stalls and suitably singular lighting.” Yep. Sounds real to me. One of the more interesting things Skolnik observes is that the sofa really wasn’t much of a place to place one’s posterior. Skolnik writes:

“The sofa looked great, but it was so tiny none of us could fit on it,” says Tonya, 21, a cast member from Walla Walla, Wash., who’s now back at college is Seattle. “It was really just a padded bench, and when you sat on it half your [rear] stuck out,” seconds Kyle, 22, a cast member from Lake Bluff and a recent Princeton graduate.

Sure, we all have bad furniture. But in this case, the furniture was actually designed. Not for the “real” people in the “real world” that the cameras were allegedly capturing, but for those people who apparently lack real lives by watching people who have no more authenticity than the cast members of “Ozzie and Harriet.” But wait a minute, the Nelsons were real—you know, Ricky and all—right?

35 thoughts on “The Reel World”

  1. I think it all comes down to the guilty pleasure of voyeurism. As much as I hate to admit, I’m entertained occasionally when the “cast” is getting involed in “real” arguments or “real” romance. I don’t think that most viewers of these so called reality shows truly believe that what they are watching is reality, they just enjoy the opportunity to peek into other people’s business. Also, some of us were hoping for that slim opportunity of seeing Colleen on the first survivor in the nude. Well, at least I was.

  2. Reality shows are really just the most recent chapter in our long history of crude, inappropriate and shameful excuses for “entertainment.” Whether its the bullfights of Madrid, the minstrel shows of Vaudeville with their “coon” songs and blackface acts, the crucifixions of the ancient Roman Empire, the public executions of the French Revolution, the Jerry Springer Show, or your favorite porn flick, human taste in entertainment hasn’t always been what you’d call “enlightened.” Why should our generation be any different? When I watch a show like Survivor, I know full well that every shot, every moment, every comment has been carefully selected by an editor and calculated to bring me back for more (not to mention, sell me another Adidas sports bra during the commercial.) That doesn’t change the fact that I find the product more interesting than the tired prime time dramas on television these days. If nothing else, the glut and popularity of actor/writer-free shows like Survivor and The Mole have provided the long-awaited wake-up call for the writers and network executives who lost their audiences to them because of complacency and the refusal to take risks with their programming. If this is what it takes to get inventive, new shows like “Six Feet Under,” “Scrubs,” and “24” produced instead of another “Friends” or “ER” wannabe, I’ll take it.

  3. Thanks, Jake for the link. We just looked at the real world website, and those people aren’t even interesting people. Why would anyone want to waste their time watching their fake “real” lives? We have the “blonde slut,” the “blonde bitch,” and the “blonde skinny girl” — come on!! our own lives, friends, and the random people we encounter are WAY more interesting. beyond that, the whole concept is just so boring — why watch a bunch of random (or not so randomly chosen) strangers eat cow brains, back-stab each other, get ready to go to clubs with a bunch of other uninteresting people, etc. granted the first real world was at least attempting to be real; it was unique, fresh, but this whole trend of reality shows has gone too far. you can’t compare it to the bull fights in Madrid — yes, that tradition is sick and cruel in its own way, but at least its not deceiving like “real” television is, and it’s not based entirely on the banalities of the human existence. the tradition of bullfighting is really an art form, filled with drama and passion. and regarding fictional programs, yes many of them are mindless, but at least there is a chance that a sit-com or drama will be witty or well-written and have entertaining plots and interesting characters. but with reality-based tv, they can’t be too witty and by definition the dialogue is not written by a talented writer because it’s supposed to be “real.”

  4. Thanks, Jake for the link. We just looked at the real world website, and those people aren’t even interesting people. Why would anyone want to waste their time watching their fake “real” lives? We have the “blonde slut,” the “blonde bitch,” and the “blonde skinny girl” — come on!! our own lives, friends, and the random people we encounter are WAY more interesting. beyond that, the whole concept is just so boring — why watch a bunch of random (or not so randomly chosen) strangers eat cow brains, back-stab each other, get ready to go to clubs with a bunch of other uninteresting people, etc. granted the first real world was at least attempting to be real; it was unique, fresh, but this whole trend of reality shows has gone too far. you can’t compare it to the bull fights in Madrid — yes, that tradition is sick and cruel in its own way, but at least its not deceiving like “real” television is, and it’s not based entirely on the banalities of the human existence. the tradition of bullfighting is really an art form, filled with drama and passion. and regarding fictional programs, yes many of them are mindless, but at least there is a chance that a sit-com or drama will be witty or well-written and have entertaining plots and interesting characters. but with reality-based tv, they can’t be too witty and by definition the dialogue is not written by a talented writer because it’s supposed to be “real.”

  5. I have to admit: I get sucked into a lot of bad tv. Last year’s Real World was the worst though, because they were working for Arista Records and had to try to get kids and radio stations to listen to this terrible new band. I seriously had to walk away from it several times because I was just clenching my teeth with hatred. The way records are released and marketed these days really makes me want to kill people. I shouldn’t let it get to me but it does.And bullfighting is cool, but it would be a lot cooler if the bulls got to win every once in a while. Like, if they gore a matador they get to be let free out in a nice pasture somewhere. Or something…

  6. We like that Jake! Did you ever read “Ferdinand” about the bull who wouldn’t fight but just wanted to smell the flowers?

  7. We like that Jake! Did you ever read “Ferdinand” about the bull who wouldn’t fight but just wanted to smell the flowers?

  8. I’ve read that book, it was a cute children’s book right? The ending was nice because Ferdinand didn’t have spears/swords jabbed throught the back of it’s neck, thus causing him to fight to the death. On a side note, what if there was a reality based show where the producers would randomly pick shitty marketing concept bands (i.e. anyone of the Pearl Jam reproductions, starting with Creed though) and put them into a bull fight? Or at least a ring with a rabid cow?- prop

  9. ‘the dialogue is not written by a talented writer because it’s supposed to be “real.”‘Which sort of implies that talented writers are unreal. . . .

  10. The first and worst Pearl Jam rip-off band was, is and always will be Stone Temple Pilots. In fact, name a band that STP hasn’t copied, jacked or mimiced? Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Lush, etc. etc…..Second band most copied has to be Nirvana. Worst Nirvana rip-off band ever? Has to Bush! What a bunch of posers. Second biggest, Courtney Love, who comes in second only because I had to flip a coin. Not only has she ripped-off the other members of Nirvana financially, she’s going around playing unreleased Nirvana songs in her live shows.oops, sorry for the rant.Peace

  11. Whilw I totally agree that STP sucked all kinds of ass at first, I think their recent efforts have been pretty cool. Especially that “it’s a gas gas gas” song, whatever that was…

  12. Anyone remember the STP rip-off band, Seven Mary Three?!?!? Hah!Also, Jake, “it’s a gas gas gas” that’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones and it’s not new. Jeesh!?!Nirvana copies I can handle, if they’re doing a good job at it. Hole was a Nirvana copy, but I still enjoyed the music. Bush did a piss poor job at it, the commercialized sound was rudiculous. I just read something about them recording another album, I didn’t even know they still existed outside of the occasional mention as Stefani’s boyfriend.

  13. gsv — that’s why we put “real” in quotation marks. talented writers and actors often get at something more real than what “reality” shows portray.

  14. gsv — that’s why we put “real” in quotation marks. talented writers and actors often get at something more real than what “reality” shows portray.

  15. Prop: No, not that one. I’m talking about “Big Bang Baby” with the chorus:Sell your soul and sign an autographBig bang baby, it’s a crash, crash, crashI wanna cry, but I gotta laughOrange crush mama it’s a laugh, laugh, laugh

  16. hole is not a nirvana rip-off. come on. cobain and love influenced each other and it wasn’t just kurt, courtney’s influence can be seen throughout in utero. for example heart-shaped box was essentially co-written by the two of them. moreover, hole and courtney love were influential in the seattle/olympia scene way before cobain left his “comfy confines” in aberdeen. we are tired of courtney getting such a bad rap, being accused of ripping cobain off (her husband by the way), and even contributing to his drug habits and suicide. she was married to him of course she’d be influenced by him. and with all the crap she had to put up with she should be “allowed” to play his songs since nirvana is essentially kurt.

  17. hole is not a nirvana rip-off. come on. cobain and love influenced each other and it wasn’t just kurt, courtney’s influence can be seen throughout in utero. for example heart-shaped box was essentially co-written by the two of them. moreover, hole and courtney love were influential in the seattle/olympia scene way before cobain left his “comfy confines” in aberdeen. we are tired of courtney getting such a bad rap, being accused of ripping cobain off (her husband by the way), and even contributing to his drug habits and suicide. she was married to him of course she’d be influenced by him. and with all the crap she had to put up with she should be “allowed” to play his songs since nirvana is essentially kurt.

  18. I called Hole a rip-off band because C. Love has announced herself as the god of all things Nirvana. She’s currently involved in legal wranglings over unreleased Nirvana material that she is attempting to keep out of the hands of the likes of Dave Grohl. While this material is locked up in legal proceedings, she’s playing them in frickin’ Hole shows!! You’d think that, listening to her, Nirvana was the stage name of the Cobaine solo project. There were two other people in the band who colaborated with Crazy Curt. She’s like a revisionist “Nancy”, who runs around trying to erase from history the fact that her former junkie boyfriend actually had to give credit to guys like Dave Grohl.That’s why I called her a rip-off artist. I actually like her music and I sometimes like what she has to say about the record industry, expecially her Salon.com article from a year ago.Peace

  19. Come on Jake, STP is a poser band, and like many poser bands before them, they sell a lot of records. They’re the alternative version of the music the ‘prols’ listen to in Orwell’s 1984, catchy, simple, popular, but totally and uterly void of any meaning or originality!Must I also remind you that you wear Britney Spears t-shirts???Peace

  20. “uterly void of any meaning or originality”… oddly enough that describes almost all music out there. not to mention that same sentiment was uttered in other words by cobain himself while describing nirvana in the liner notes to “incesticide”…”i don’t feel the least bit guilty for commercially exploiting a completely exhausted rock youth culture because, at this point in rock history, punk rock (while still sacred to some) is, to me, dead and gone. we just wanted to pay tribute to something that helped us to feel as though we had crawled out of the dung heep of conformity. to pay tribute like an elvis or jimi hendrix impersonater in the tradition of a bar band. i’ll be the first to admit that we’re the 90’s version of cheap trick or the knack but the last to admit that it hasn’t been rewarding.”

  21. First, regarding Dave Grohl, Courtney had more to do with writing the lyrics than he did, or even writing the music for that matter. He wasn’t even an original band member and happened to jump on right when they were about to take off. He was in the right place at the right time, bottom line. Regarding guido valentine’s quote above, “Kurdt” Cobain was the quintessential punk-rock poser — he was so insecure about being himself that every interview was carefully constructed and calculated, so much of what he said was an exaggeration. The reality is he sold out because he wanted a larger audience, wanted to be a rock star, and subpop wouldn’t/couldn’t sell him to a larger commercial audience. can’t blame the guy for wanting to make money and wanting his music to reach a larger audience, but why couch that in all the “crawled out of the dung heep of conformity” bullshit…moreover, back to our original point, re: courtney love, we’re sick of Kurdt being viewed as some kind of revolutionary rock god artist and courtney being seen as a calculated leach on all that’s good. bottom line is, she’s a strong woman who supported her junkie boyfriend, who happened to be the love of her life, she made his music possible, notwithstanding what she literally contributed to it, and that’s what women always do for men…just like Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock and countless others.

  22. First, regarding Dave Grohl, Courtney had more to do with writing the lyrics than he did, or even writing the music for that matter. He wasn’t even an original band member and happened to jump on right when they were about to take off. He was in the right place at the right time, bottom line. Regarding guido valentine’s quote above, “Kurdt” Cobain was the quintessential punk-rock poser — he was so insecure about being himself that every interview was carefully constructed and calculated, so much of what he said was an exaggeration. The reality is he sold out because he wanted a larger audience, wanted to be a rock star, and subpop wouldn’t/couldn’t sell him to a larger commercial audience. can’t blame the guy for wanting to make money and wanting his music to reach a larger audience, but why couch that in all the “crawled out of the dung heep of conformity” bullshit…moreover, back to our original point, re: courtney love, we’re sick of Kurdt being viewed as some kind of revolutionary rock god artist and courtney being seen as a calculated leach on all that’s good. bottom line is, she’s a strong woman who supported her junkie boyfriend, who happened to be the love of her life, she made his music possible, notwithstanding what she literally contributed to it, and that’s what women always do for men…just like Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock and countless others.

  23. I am 100% convinced that without Dave Grohl, Nirvana wouldn’t have exploded the way they did. A great drummer makes all the difference in the world. And Kurt would never have had the balls to even get up on stage if his best friend Krist wasn’t right there beside him.And regardless of who influenced whom back in the day, what Courtney is doing now with the Nirvana catalog is dispicable. She should NOT have more of a say in what is done with the band’s legacy than the two guys who were actually in the band.And to claim that Nirvana=Kurt is just crazy. When it comes to music, I totally believe in magic and alchemy, and if you change up the ingredients, you’re not going to get the same potion. Listen to Bleach. Then listen to In Utero. The latter obviously contained the correct ingredients, while the former was clearly missing something.I don’t really care about selling out as long as the music is still good. Courtney’s a goof. I wish she would let Krist Novaselic raise Francis Bean. That’s our only hope for Bean to live up to her potential.

  24. Just so everyone understands my wishes, I’ll state them now! If I die, and the remaining members of my former band, Chrome, wish to profit from the product of our professional relationship, that being our prolific catalog of rock songs, please insure (I’m holding you all to this!) that whomever my wife/girlfriend/smack-junkie/sex-partner is at the time, she has absolutely no control over my music. Understanding also that she may even be the inspiration for our now famous song, Pretty Pink P***y. I hold you all to this, you being witnesses to my wishes here today! Keep the chicks outta my sh*t and let my boyz take care of it.Thank YouScotty

  25. I’ve noticed the prominent b.o. smell that lingers long after you’ve left the bar. I just figured you came from the gym.Cheers!

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